Guatemala is divided into 22 administrative departments, each headed by a governor appointed by the president. Guatemala City, the capital and largest city, has a population of 1,307,300 (1981 preliminary). Other principal cities, with their populations, include Quezaltenango (72,745), the center of a grain-growing region; Puerto Barrios (46,782), the chief port on the Caribbean coast; Mazatenango (37,633); and Antigua (27,000).
Guatemala's 1985 constitution provides for a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The 1993 constitutional reforms included: the calling of new congressional elections; a reduction in the number of congressional representatives from 116 to 80; a replacement of Supreme Court justices; an increase in the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to 13; and a reduction in the terms of office for president and congressional representatives from five to four years and for Supreme Court justices from six to five years.
The president is directly elected under universal suffrage and, beginning with the 1995 elections, will serve a four-year term. The president cannot serve a successive term. There is a vice president, who also will serve a four-year term.
The congress is unicameral. Its 80 members are elected for four years, and the terms are not staggered.
There is a Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the Congress based on a selection list submitted by the bar association, law school deans, a university rector, and appellate judges. Pursuant to the 1993 constitutional reforms, the new Supreme Court justices took office in October 1994. The justices serve five-year terms. The Supreme Court and local courts handle civil and criminal cases. There also is a constitutional court.
In early congressional elections on August 14, 1994--required by the 1993 constitutional reforms--two conservative anti-corruption parties, the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) and the Party of National Advancement (PAN), together garnered 56 of the 80 seats in the newly structured Congress. Although voter participation was low, the congressional elections democratically resolved the sharp differences among the executive branch, the legislature, and the Supreme Court, and relations between the executive and the legislature are expected to improve. General elections for president, Congress, and mayors throughout the country will be held in the latter part of 1995.
Assuming political stability, Guatemala is well-positioned for rapid economic growth over the next few years. For 1994, Guatemala's GDP is estimated at $11 billion, with a growth rate of 4%.
Agriculture is the largest economic sector, contributing 24% of GDP and accounting for 75% of exports. Most manufacturing is devoted to light assembly and food processing operations and is still geared mainly toward the domestic and Central American markets. Since 1986, tourism and exports of textiles, apparel, and non-traditional agricultural products such as winter vegetables, fruits, and cut flowers have boomed. The United States is the country's largest trading partner. Guatemala's economy is dominated by the private sector, which generates about 85% of GDP. The government's small and shrinking participation in production has always been limited to public utilities and several development- oriented financial institutions.
Guatemala's return to civilian democratic rule in 1986 spurred a reversal of the steep economic decline that had reduced real per capita income by nearly 20% in the first half of the 1980s. It also marked the start of a trend toward economic diversification and improved international competitiveness, spurred by economic policies that promoted financial stability and growth through exports. These policies have included:
-- Simplifying the tax structure and broadening the tax base-- Guatemala's tax burden is still among the lowest in the world, however; -- Restraining growth of domestic credit, especially to the public sector; -- Eliminating most price controls--only basic staples remain subject to controls; -- Unifying and liberalizing the previously government-controlled, multi-tiered exchange rate; -- Increasing private sector participation in electricity and telecommunications industries; and -- Liberalizing the market for petroleum products.
Import tariffs have been lowered in conjunction with Guatemala's Central American neighbors so that most now fall between 5% and 20%.
Responding to Guatemala's changed political and economic policy environment, the international community has mobilized substantial resources to support the country's economic and social development objectives. The United States, in particular, and Germany, to a lesser extent, have provided significant amounts of balance-of-payments assistance. Along with other donor countries--especially France, Italy, Spain, and Japan--they also have increased development project financing.
Problems hindering economic growth include illiteracy and low levels of education; inadequate capital markets; and lack of infrastructure, particularly in the transportation and electrical sectors. The distribution of income and wealth remains highly skewed. The richest 10% of the population receives almost one-half of all income; the top 20% receives two-thirds of all income. As a result, more than half the population lives in poverty, and two-thirds lives in extreme poverty. Guatemala's social indicators, such as infant mortality and illiteracy, are correspondingly among the worst in the hemisphere.
Maya peoples make up about 55% of the population of Guatemala, and the remainder consists largely of mestizos or Ladinos, that is, persons of mixed Native American and Spanish descent. Approximately 64% of the country's population is defined as rural. Population Characteristics
Population: 10,998,602 (July 1995 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.53% (1995 est.)
Birth rate: 34.65 births/1,000 population (1995 est.)
Death rate: 7.33 deaths/1,000 population (1995 est.)
Net migration rate: -2.04 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1995 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 52.2 deaths/1,000 live births (1995 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
Total fertility rate: 4.63 children born/woman (1995 est.)
Ethnic divisions: Mestizo - mixed Amerindian-Spanish ancestry (in local Spanish called Ladino) 56%, Amerindian or predominently Amerindian 44%
In the term of "long term residency", Guatemala's low cost of living sets it apart, even among its Central American neighbors. Residents who can live without pre-packaged and processed foods and some other modern conveniences find they can live very comfortably and economically in a safe middle class Guatemalan neighborhood.
Restaurant food is not one of the country's strong points, but residents overcome this inconvenience by becoming excellent cooks, taking advantage of the wonderful and inexpensive fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. You can hire a full time live in cook for around $25.00 per week.
At some of the international resaurants featuring international menus, dinner, with desert, and a few beers will cost around $5.00. Most expatriates will budget around $150 to $200 per month for food expense.
Most expatriates live in Guatemala City, Antigua, or even further out in Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. In any of these locations, a nice two or three bedroom home rents for between $500 and $700 per month. Nice lots in the suburbs of the capital sell from $30,000. Middle class homes cost around $30,000.
Due to the low cost of living, the government only requires resident pensioners or rentistas to prove a permanent income outside of $300 to qualify for resident status. Other Central American countries require a minimum of $600. If you own your own home, foreign residents say that a couple can live comfortably on $700 per month.
The climate of Guatemala is, for the most part, equable, although temperatures vary considerably according to altitude. Between about 915 and 2440 m (about 3000 and 8000 ft) above sea level, where most of the population is concentrated, the days are warm and the nights cool; the average annual temperature is about 20 deg. C (about 68 deg. F). The weather in the low-lying coastal regions is more tropical in character, with an average annual temperature of about 28.3 deg. C (about 83 deg. F). The rainy season occurs between May and October, with a corresponding dry season from November to April. Annual rainfall in the north averages between 1525 and 2540 mm (about 60 and 100 in); the city of Guatemala, in the southern highlands, receives about 1320 mm (about 52 in) annually
Most banks open at 9:00 a.m., and some banks close at 3:00 p.m., but others close as late as 7:00 and 8:00 in the evening, from Monday to Friday. On Saturdays, they are usually open only from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Automatic Tellers are open for the convenience of their customers 24 hours a day, especially for those tourists who travel to the interior of the country.
All major cities and towns have post offices, which are open Mon. - Fri. from 8:00 a.m. and close around 6:00 p.m. in the capital and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. everywhere else.
Mail service is slow, but generally reliable. A letter sent air-mail from Guatemala to Canada or the U.S. may take anywhere from 4 to 14 days to arrive at its destination. Air-mail to Europe takes from one to three weeks.
To receive mail, the Central Post Office in Guatemala City is the safest. A passport is required to pick up mail.
In terms of telecommunications, Guatemala is up-to-date with the most modern technological advances. International telephone communications are efficient; telex and fax communications are available as well as Internet access. Telegrams can be sent anywhere.
Currency regulations and exchange
rates will vary depending on the nature and
Currency: Quetzal (Q) = 100 centavos. Notes are in denominations of Q100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1, and 50 centavos. Coins are in denominations of 25, 10, 5 and 1 centavos.
exchange: From November 1989 the exchange rate ceased to be fixed.
It may be
Credit cards: Visa and American Express are accepted, whilst Diners Club and Access/Mastercard have a more limited acceptance. Check with your credit card company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available.
Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, but 21 ethnolinguistic Mayan groups have kept their ancestral languages alive. Garífuna and Xinca are also spoken. These languages also have their own phonetical, grammatical and structural base. English is spoken in all main tourist centers.